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Besides thrilling to Thunberg's thunder and jumping to Jewtraw's joy, spectators at the skating rink saw curling, hockey and figure skating. They also witnessed some personal dramas that they couldn't know about.
Szabo-Plank remembers, for example, that there was great anxiety among the four competitors who made up the Austrian Olympic figure skating team. "We were so worried, so nervous," she says. "Germany hadn't been invited to the Olympics because of their part in the Great War. And we were very afraid of what our reception might be. We four had worked as hard as we ever could in preparing for these competitions. We were determined to show the world that our tiny, shrunken, postwar Austria was still very much alive." To their great relief, the Austrians were received with warmth during the parade—"People threw their caps in the air," Szabo-Plank recalls—and they proceeded to deliver a medal-per-capita performance that no other team in Chamonix could match. Engelmann and Alfred Berger won gold in the pairs, and Willi Böckl was the silver medalist in men's figure skating behind the elegant Swede, Gillis Grafström. And, of course, Szabo-Plank, then 22 and already twice a world champion, got her gold.
She remembers her triumph well: "I always had a new dress for major competitions, and I wore a terra-cotta—colored wool that day. The music was provided by six musicians, five strings and a piano. It was broadcast over 10 electric megaphones around the grandstand. On the day of the ladies' free skating competition, however, there was a strong wind blowing the music away from the rink. We managed all right."
But when Szabo-Plank finished her program, she wasn't at all sure that she had managed. Until Chamonix, she had never seen American or British women skaters perform, and they awed her. "They seemed so much prettier, and they skated so differently—so modern," she says. Upon leaving the ice, Szabo-Plank hurried back to her hotel room and undressed, convinced that she had lost.
Moments later, her father, Alexander von Szabo, a wealthy Viennese export-import merchant, pounded on her door: "Get dressed. You've won," he shouted. "They're already hoisting the Austrian flag." Szabo-Plank put on her skating costume, returned to the rink and learned that she had swept both compulsory and free skating competitions by such margins that the judges had awarded her the gold medal by a unanimous vote. Henie, the dimpled favorite of the crowd, came in eighth, but her promise was dazzling. Herr Szabo told a Viennese newspaper that little Sonja's free skating was "full of recurring elegant poses and difficult jumps," and "if she remains an amateur, she will be the future world champion."
He was right, but neither he nor his daughter liked it when his prediction came true. Szabo-Plank went on to win the singles world championship in 1924, '25 and '26 and, with a Viennese skater named Ludwig Wrede, the pairs title in '25 and '26. The '27 world competition was to be held in Henie's hometown of Oslo, however. Szabo-Plank today is as agitated about what happened there as she was at the time. "The end wasn't a pretty story," she says grimly. "It was a scandal. Henie was a very sweet little girl, but her father and her fans did not behave properly."
On the train to Oslo, an Austrian conductor told Szabo-Plank that the town was plastered with posters paid for by Henie's father that proclaimed a victory for his daughter in advance. He also said that fans were in an unruly mood. This proved to be correct. "At the hotel," recalls Szabo-Plank, "some Norwegians ruined my skating boots with a razor blade. I soon learned also that the figure skating jury was composed of one Austrian, one German and five Norwegians. I knew that no matter what I did I would be rated below Henie."
Henie was indeed crowned world champion that year. She also won Olympic gold medals in 1928, '32 and '36, and became a Hollywood star and then a businesswoman so shrewd that she is reputed to have made something like $500 million by the time she died of cancer in 1969 at the age of 57.
Szabo-Plank and her partner won the pairs at Oslo in 1927, but this didn't placate her. She quit skating. She took up skiing and was a member of the Austrian Alpine team for 10 years. She married four times, and her fourth husband, Hans Stark, the director of Austria's national forests, made her very happy until he died in 1968 after 20 years of marriage. "All that remains of my youth is the discipline of a sportswoman," she says. "Every day, rain or shine, I force myself to walk 10 rounds in the garden." She moves slowly there, poking her canes one after the other into the ground. Once in a while her blue eyes lift to gaze at the Alps before her. Her eyes are bright and lively—much like, one assumes, the eyes of the young woman who 60 years ago proudly watched the Austrian flag rise above the ice in the center of Chamonix.
By the time the closing competitive event began on the rink on Feb. 3, the ice had been consecrated with the sweat and tears of dozens of Olympians. The last event—the hockey finale between Canada and the U.S.—added a sprinkling of blood. The game was called by one journalist "the roughest hockey struggle ever played in Europe."